Mercedes-Benz has long been a proponent of diesel engines, and the current Bluetec is so good that its quiet performance and good fuel economy are sure to win over customers.
The GL350 has a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 with 210 horsepower. This engine delivers 400 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. That’s more torque, at 1,000 fewer rpm, than the V-8 in the GL450, and torque is most useful in acceleration and towing.
Many folks think of diesel engines as loud, sooty and crude, but today’s high-tech diesels are clean, quiet and 20 percent to 40 percent more efficient than gasoline engines. They also emit less carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Because diesels have high combustion temperatures, they produce more nitrogen oxide than a gasoline engine. The Bluetec system injects a harmless solution of urea in the exhaust stream, and that releases ammonia into a converter that changes 80 percent of the nitrogen oxide into nitrogen and water.
The GL’s engine has four valves per cylinder, dual overhead camshafts and piezo fuel injectors that spray fuel directly into the center of each cylinder. A variable-nozzle turbocharger adds power and a counter-rotating balance shaft reduces vibration. The engine is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The GL350 is a great example of why diesels make so much sense, especially in a utility vehicle with a boxy profile. The diesel’s fuel economy ratings are 17 city and 23 highway, compared to 13 city and 18 highway for the gasoline engine in the GL450. The GL has a 600-mile cruising range and it can tow 7,500 pounds.
Another advantage of a diesel engine is its ability to burn biodiesel, made from vegetable oils, and biomass-to-liquid diesel fuel. BTL fuel can be made from any biomass, including scrap wood.
A drawback to diesel is that fuel is not available in every station, and the price sits between regular and premium.
I drove a 2010 that had a base price of $60,825. The 2011 will have a base price of $61,825.
For 2010, the front of the GL was restyled with a new grille, bumpers, fog lights and skid plates. The wheels are now 20-inch models with run-flat tires.
The GL’s off-road system manages challenging terrain with a combination of features including 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive, Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), Hill Start Assist, and Airmatic suspension that provides ground clearance of up to 12 inches. Under normal driving conditions, torque is split 50-50 between the front and rear wheels. When conditions demand, torque is transferred to the wheels with the most traction. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and a vehicle stability program with trailer stability assist are standard.
The GL has a 121.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 200.6 inches. The long wheelbase results in room for three rows of seats, and I carried six people without any crowding. The extra length makes it somewhat hard to park in a shopping center lot.
The GL’s ride is smooth without being mushy, yet it is able to handle moderate off-road conditions easily.
The cabin, and especially the instrument panel, looks more like that of a sports sedan than a truck. Large, tubular air vents exit from the top of the center stack. The center console has two large cup holders, integrated grab handles and an armrest with storage.
The split-folding rear seat flips forward without requiring removal of the rear-seat headrests. Total cargo space is 83 cubic feet with the seat down. The cargo area is finished with nice carpet. A power liftgate is optional.
Safety features include two-stage adaptive air bags for the driver and passenger, a knee air bag for the driver, seat-mounted side air bags for the front and rear seats and side-curtain air bags.
The GL is built in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The base price of the test car was $60,825. Options included a wood steering wheel, Comand system with navigation, an MP3 connector for the audio system, rearview camera, power liftgate, Sirius satellite radio with real-time traffic information, HD digital radio and a 4-gigabyte hard disc for storing music. The sticker price was $67,975.
Four years or 50,000 miles.2010 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec
Engine: 3.0-liter, 210-hp V-6 diesel
Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
Curb weight: 5,423 lbs.
Base price: $60,825
As driven: $67,975
MPG rating: 17 city, 23 hwy.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is email@example.com
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